Facing East (HUM303/455)

Notes on Facing East From Indian Country (2001) by Daniel K. Richter

“These were not just European but also indigenously North American wars that grew from longstanding, home-grown conflicts. Inter-Indian and Indian-colonial rivalries made them every bit as much a matter of Native Americans involving European allies in their battles as they were of Europeans involving Native Americans in theirs” (Richter 155).

“Direct military confrontation with European powers was suicidal; some kind of diplomatic accommodation was the only route to survival. But an accommodation that relied solely on a single European power was an almost equally certain path to extinction” (164).

“The Native peoples who survived and even prospered into the eighteenth century capitalized on their geographic position, their economic and military value to European governors, and their decentralized political systems to keep their options open, to maintain connections with more than one imperial power, and thus to maintain their cultural and political autonomy” (164).

Peter Wraxall, New York Indian affairs secretary: “‘[T]o preserve the balance between us and the French is the great ruling principle of the modern Indian politics’” (164).

“A variety of survivors from the seventeenth-century Iroquois wars and from the great early contact-era epidemics had coalesced into a loose network of refugee villages. Hurons mixed with other Iroquoian-speakers to become the people known as the Wyandots. Ottawas, Miamis, Illinois, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, Foxes and others who spoke Algonquian languages lived interspersed with one another, sometimes in the same villages, more often in separate towns clustered near French posts such as Michilimackinac or Detroit” (167-8).

“Ohio country villages [included] ‘Delawares’ (a polyglot group of Munsees, Lenapes, and others forced from homes in the mid-Atlantic region), and ‘Mingoes’ (Iroquois from various nations who joined the westward migration). This diverse lot often settled in multiethnic and multilingual villages where they discovered that they had much in common with each other” (168).

“In a paradoxical way, it was precisely the lack of centralized political unity that made modern Indian politics work: factional leaders independently cultivated ties to particular European colonies, cumulatively maintaining the multiple connections that warded off political dependence on powerful European neighbors” (171).

“As basic diplomatic forms spread throughout the continent, royal governors and Native leaders everywhere participated in similar grand public treaty conferences, addressed each other by similar kinship terms and inherited titles, spoke in similar metaphorical vocabularies, exchanged similar wampum belts, and recorded their transactions in similar written minutes. This culture of diplomacy increasingly drew diverse Indian communities into a single political world in which colonial governors appointed by distant crowns were focal points and could proclaim, as Virginia’s Francis Fauquier did to a Cherokee delegation on George II’s birthday… that ‘the King [was] the common father of all his people, Withe and Red.’ Just as eighteenth-century British Americans found political stability in a transatlantic imperial framework, so too, in a parallel way, did Native Americans” (171).

“For Indians, as for Euro-Americans, that world was knit together as an ‘Empire of Goods.’ Indeed, in many respects Native Americans experienced the full effects of te eighteenth-century consumer revolution even before most British Americans did. ‘A modern Indian cannot subsist without Europeans and would handle a flint ax or any other rude utensil used by his ancestors very awkwardly,’ colonial official John Stuart explained in 1761; ‘what was only conveniency at first is now become necessity.’ The list of conveniencies and necessities that tied Native Americans to translatlantic commerce was extensive. Indian country relied on trade with Europe and Europeans for items as diverse as weapons and ammunition, woolen textiles used for men’s cloaks, women’s skirts, and leggings for both sexes, ready-made linen shirts for men and shifts for women, vermilion [often lead-based]  and verdigris for body and face painting, tools of eery kind from knives and hatchets to needles and scissors, brass kettles and pewter spoons, muskets and gun flints, jewelry, liquor [ultimately, a kind of cultural weapon], tobacco, and wampum (which in the eighteenth century was mostly turned out in Albany workshops). Apart from food and shelter, virtually every aspect of Indian material life depended upon economic ties with Europe’ (174-5).

“As consumers, however, modern Indians used imported goods in ways rooted in their own rather than European cultures; they were no more deculturated by trade than were twentieth-century North Americans who purchased Japanese televisions. Indeed, it is more accurated, and more revealing of the parallel rather than intersecting courses of Native and Euro-American histories, to describe eighteenth-century imports not as European goods but as ‘Indian goods’ made in Europe to suit Native tastes” (175).

This included tailoring trade goods to Indian specifications, as in the production of lighter muskets. “[T]he specification of such artifacts… reveal the complex ways in which Indians integrated themselves into the transatlantic Empire of Goods without losing their distinct cultural identity [including] the way the acquisition and use of those goods fit into traditional patterns of reciprocity and exchange” (176).

“In form if not in function, exchanges continued to embody personal relationships, rather than impersonal buying and selling.”

“The limited degree to which capitalist assumptions about property and accumulation penetrated early eighteenth century Native societies is suggested by the” fact that for many Native Americans surplus goods were for those who might need them. (177).

Yet “there is considerable evidence that in many parts of Indian North America, class lines were emerging between those with greater access to consumer goods (many of whom tended to be metis or ‘mixed bloods,’ who imbibed the capitalist ethos of their Euro-American trader fathers) and those less well supplied. These and other cultural implications of Native dependence on European trade, however, only entrenched Indian people more firmly in a broader narrative of eighteenth-century North American history in which British Americans also were plagued by increasing disparities of wealth and troubled by the apparent contradictions between republican virtue and capitalist acquisition.”

“[I]n that translatlantic world, Indians were producers as well as consumers.” (i.e. the fur trade).

“Whether Native peoples provided deerskins, beaver pelts, or slaves for European markets, the changing role of Indian producers in the eighteenth-century Empire of Goods is perhaps more important than their role as consumers in helping us to appreciate the complexities of Indian economic dependence upon the transatlantic economy” (178).

“[I]n the countinghouses [of Europe] profits and capital accumulated while Indians merely consumed and produced.” This produced a “lopsided economic relationship.”

Eventually the market in furs is saturated, creating “devastating impacts on the northern Native people who relied on the trade” (179). With the loss of economic significance came a consequent loss of political clout.

Increasingly Whites and Indians were seen to be sharply distinct from one another, “utterly incompatible, kinds of people who could never peacefully share the continent.”

This division also gave rise to a sense of coherent, unified Native racial identity. “[I]n the same period that diverse colonists of varied European backgrounds were discovering in North America their first glimmerings of a ‘White’ racial identity, nativist Indians perhaps even more compellingly discovered that they were ‘Red’” (181).

As time passed “the economic goals of most British Americans were almost entirely antithetical to European-Indian accommodation. Not intercultural trade but capitalist agriculture… was primary, and persistent immigration of agricultural labor was essential to economic prosperity. The result was an inexorable demand for new agricultural land– land that in one way or another had to be expropriated from its aboriginal owners” (184).

Ever-increasing encroachment on Native lands led to sporadic violence and ultimately the Seven Years’ War.

Pennsylvania: $130 bounty for an Indian scalp.

With the British victory in 1763 “the structural framework upon which the modern Indian politics had depended for two generations imploded” (187).

“[T[he ring of competing imperial powers that had provided an odd security to the Indian country it surrounded suddenly collapsed, replaced by a novel advancing frontier line– Reds defending the west, Whites pushing relentlessly across it from the east– that later generations of Americans would incorrectly define as the historic norm” (187).

“In 1763 the shared Euro-Indian translatlantic imperial world in which [the previous political arrangements] could be practiced and in which Natives and colonists could live parallel lives disappeared forever. In coming years, Euro-Americans would deliberately erase that past from their memories as they constructed a new future in which Indian nations– and the empires that made room for them– had no place” (188).